In a previous post titled Who is Right? I wrote about the cost of being right and the dangers of righteousness. Starting with an example of a company providing customer service, I expanded the conversation to how this applies to a leader. Here I am going to explore how it applies to every one of us in everyday life.
We all have moments when we are being right and/or righteous. We can choose to be aware or not and act accordingly: yet what about when we are “on the other side of right”?
How can we deal with someone who is being right about their point of view or even about us?
It happens all the time. Sometimes we can just brush it off easily recognizing the situation for what it is. Other times we get upset, even very upset; possibly because it affects something or someone we care deeply about or reminds us of a painful situation from our past.
Quite a few people shared with me their own current experiences of being on “the other side of right” this week. I am in the middle of a situation of my own as well. There’s nothing like first hand experience to remind me of just how hard it can be. Unfortunately, I am also reminded that there are no easy answers. These situations are often complex. So what I am sharing here is not a formula, but rather a reflection on both what it is like to be” on the other side of right” and some thoughts on how to navigate the territory in a way that honors you and your commitments, especially the commitments you have to yourself.
So what is it like to be on the other side of right?
There is no being heard whether we get the opportunity to speak or not.
When people believe they are right they tend to listen only to those that agree with them. There is often a lot more gossip going on than straight conversation with those who are deemed as being “wrong”. Yet when someone is being right about us or their point of view, they rarely see a reason to even talk with us about our point of view, let along actually hear us. After all, if they are right then we are obviously wrong. So what is there to talk about? What could they possibly hear other than that which affirms what they already believe to be true?
Conclusions are drawn and labels are often assigned.
It is not a far leap for people to make from what you did was wrong to who you are is bad, unworthy, stupid, careless, pushy, etc. In the moment it can feel like an all out character assault that can test our self esteem. And for the long term it can leave an interpretation about us in the minds of others that we will have to continue to deal with regardless of whether it is valid or not.
Possibility is shut down, and replaced by survival.
We may feel frustrated, angry, and/or sad. In the worst of situations we can feel powerless. It can even feel a bit like being assaulted, maybe not on our physical person, but on our identity or our character. We may feel compelled to either defend ourselves or go on the attack. Or we may completely shut down. Being on the other side of right does not usually bring out the best in us. Sometimes we do a better job than others at managing our reactions and emotions in the situation, but I would venture to say it is never a pleasant experience. And survival can result in us behaving in ways that are not even consistent for us.
We have all been on the other side of right. We are likely to be there again in small ways and in big ways. We are also all likely to be right ourselves on occasion. Wars are waged because “we” are right and “they” are wrong. Welcome to our humanity. This will not change. But we can learn to make choices that empower us, that contribute to peace, that open possibility, and even that contribute to healing ourselves, our organizations and our communities.
So what choices can we make?
I’ll start with the options our emotions usually select from:.
1. We can fight. We can meet their righteousness with our own righteousness. We can build our own camp of agreement to fortify our position. But can we really win? And even if we do “win”, consider what do we actually win?
2. We can defend ourselves. Yet when you are presumed guilty (or wrong) what is the point of your defense? Consider that your attempts at defense are likely to be futile.
3. We can feign agreement or apologize for something we do not even believe we did wrong in the hope of making peace. Why not just let them think they are right and that you agree with them. Yet how much energy does it take to sustain a lie? And while either may open a door into the other’s world the price may be our integrity with ourselves, taking a notch out of our self esteem.
5. We can walk away or turn the other cheek so we don’t have to deal with it or simply continue on stoically. The question we must ask ourselves here though is: will we be able to let it go or will we carry it with us even when we are out of the situation? Either way we must consider the energetic cost.
Ultimately, here are our fundamental choices as I see it:
1. We can “take the high road”, a thinly veiled disguise of our real feelings and reactions that may make us look good and even allow us to be right about how good we are that we are rising above the situation.
2. We can “taken the low road”, and perhaps enjoy bit of short term satisfaction only to potentially endure the long term cost on our souls and identity.
3. We can choose our own road, the one that empowers us the most and is consistent with our commitments and who we want to be.
One thing is certain: the moment we choose based on our commitments and our own integrity, we get our power back.
How do we choose our own road? Here are some questions we can reflect on to support us in creating the path that honors us and what we stand for:
1. What can I take personal responsibility for that is authentic, that I can truly own?
2. What is at stake here – for me, for the others involved, for the larger commitments this affects – that I would be willing to take a stand for here?
3. What could the best possible outcome look like?
4. Given all of that what could I do now that could make a difference in creating that outcome? Who can I ask for help?
5. What am I learning?
You may try many things, giving it your best shot and fail anyway. Remember that you don’t have any control over what the other person does or does not do in response to your actions or your words. Yet I’ll suggest there is a lot for you and others around you to gain personally if your actions are based on your answers to these questions. And on those occasions when you do succeed everyone wins.
In the end, you may choose to walk away or simply turn the other cheek for just a little longer. Just make sure if you do either that you do so in a way that you keep your personal integrity intact. And be sure to leave the baggage behind.
What strategies have you used successfully to deal with being “on the other side of right?”